Scott McLaughlin edged Jamie Whincup out of first position right at the end of an Armor All Qualifying session at Sandown which looked to have been effectively truncated by rain.
McLaughlin’s effort means that Alexandre Premat will start this afternoon’s co-driver sprint from the front of the grid under the unique three-step process to set the starting order for the Penrite Oil Sandown 500 proper.
The #17 Shell V-Power Mustang will be joined on the front row for Race 28 by Craig Lowndes in the #888 Red Bull HRT ZB Commodore after Whincup’s best time stood up for second-fastest.
Whincup was one of two drivers who did not bother to go back onto the race track after it seemed that the return of showers would prevent any improvements on what was a frantic opening run.
That proved to be the case for three others besides Whincup in the top seven, including his team-mate Shane van Gisbergen, who ended up putting the #97 ZB Commodore fourth on the timesheet.
The two Triple Eight Race Engineering entries were split by Andre Heimgartner, who found enough time to put the #7 Plus Fitness Altima back into third position all told, having occupied the same spot after the first runs.
As light rain fell at the start of the 20-minute session, all 25 primary drivers headed onto the race track on slick tyres.
For the first few minutes, it was a case of the later the better as the fastest lap changed almost every time another car crossed the control line.
With rain reportedly falling again at the northern end of the circuit, the third flyers were the last for most drivers, at which time Whincup was on top with a 1:07.9159s from van Gisbergen, and Heimgartner.
McLaughlin went a lap longer and moved from eight to fourth, ahead of Anton De Pasquale (#99 Penrite ZB Commodore) and Chaz Mostert (#55 Supercheap Auto Mustang).
The circuit got wetter over the next few minutes and initially it was only the Kelly Racing Altimas that went back out as proceedings moved past the halfway mark.
Even with all but Whincup and Jack Le Brocq (#19 NTI ZB Commodore) on the race track, lap times were still in the 1:13s in the 18th minute.
Fabian Coulthard (#12 Shell V-Power Mustang) jumped from 16th to 10th just after the chequered flag, before Heimgartner edged up one spot to second.
The latter’s team-mate, Garry Jacobson (#3 Rabble.Club Altima), who had not long been off the track at Dandenong Road, then leapt into fourth position.
Van Gisbergen went fastest to the second sector although found no improvement on the lap as a whole, but McLaughlin did when he moved himself from fifth to first at virtually the very end with a 1:07.7736s.
“I was just watching the track dry (for) those first three laps I was out there and I was trying to look after the tyre, look after the tyre, look after the tyre and then the boys said ‘They’re going a bit faster, they’re doing an ‘eight’ now,’” recounted McLaughlin.
“I knew that the track grip was semi-there so I had a big go and it was really good.
“I was safe in the places I could spin out like Turn 4 and a few other places but once I got it hooked up and got going around the back and the places it was dry, the thing was good.”
Whincup was nevertheless satisfied with the decision to have put the cue in the rack after one run.
“I don’t think it was a matter of strategy, we sort of maximised our car in the first run so we weren’t really going to go much quicker,” he explained.
“Just Car #17 is faster in quali spec, we’ve seen it all year. Saw it a couple of weeks ago and we’ve seen it again today.
“It’s not the (official) pole, we’ve still got the qualifying races to go.
“Hopefully Lowndesy can do a good job in the first one and I can keep it on the black stuff in the second one.”
Rookie Jacobson ended up fifth, ahead of De Pasquale, Mostert, 2018 Sandown 500 pole-sitter David Reynolds (#9 Penrite ZB Commodore), Will Davison (#23 Milwaukee Mustang), and James Golding (#34 Boost Mobile ZB Commodore).
Outside the top 10 were Lee Holdsworth (#5 The Bottle-O Mustang) in 11th, Coulthard in 12th, and 2017 Sandown 500 winner Cameron Waters (#6 Monster Energy Mustang) in 15th.
Race 28 of the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship, a 20-lap sprint for the co-drivers, is set to start at 1425 local time/AEDT.
Results: Armor All Qualifying
|1||17||Shell V-Power Racing Team||Scott McLaughlin||Ford Mustang GT||1:07.7736|
|2||888||Red Bull Holden Racing Team||Jamie Whincup||Holden Commodore ZB||1:07.9159||0:00.1423|
|3||7||Plus Fitness Racing||Andre Heimgartner||Nissan Altima||1:07.9398||0:00.1662|
|4||97||Red Bull Holden Racing Team||Shane van Gisbergen||Holden Commodore ZB||1:07.9663||0:00.1927|
|5||3||RABBLE.club Racing||Garry Jacobson||Nissan Altima||1:08.0406||0:00.2670|
|6||99||Penrite Racing||Anton De Pasquale||Holden Commodore ZB||1:08.1605||0:00.3869|
|7||55||Supercheap Auto Racing||Chaz Mostert||Ford Mustang GT||1:08.2222||0:00.4486|
|8||9||Penrite Racing||David Reynolds||Holden Commodore ZB||1:08.2371||0:00.4635|
|9||23||Milwaukee Racing||Will Davison||Ford Mustang GT||1:08.2400||0:00.4664|
|10||34||Boost Mobile Racing||James Golding||Holden Commodore ZB||1:08.2421||0:00.4685|
|11||5||The Bottle-O Racing Team||Lee Holdsworth||Ford Mustang GT||1:08.2591||0:00.4855|
|12||12||Shell V-Power Racing Team||Fabian Coulthard||Ford Mustang GT||1:08.2746||0:00.5010|
|13||18||Irwin Racing||Mark Winterbottom||Holden Commodore ZB||1:08.2838||0:00.5102|
|14||2||Mobil 1 Racing||Scott Pye||Holden Commodore ZB||1:08.2892||0:00.5156|
|15||6||Monster Energy Racing Team||Cameron Waters||Ford Mustang GT||1:08.3523||0:00.5787|
|16||35||Bigmate Racing||Todd Hazelwood||Holden Commodore ZB||1:08.3859||0:00.6123|
|17||15||Castrol Racing||Rick Kelly||Nissan Altima||1:08.4149||0:00.6413|
|18||14||Freightliner Racing||Tim Slade||Holden Commodore ZB||1:08.4323||0:00.6587|
|19||33||Boost Mobile Racing||Richie Stanaway||Holden Commodore ZB||1:08.5788||0:00.8052|
|20||78||Team Harvey Norman||Simona De Silvestro||Nissan Altima||1:08.6178||0:00.8442|
|21||8||Fujitsu Racing||Nick Percat||Holden Commodore ZB||1:08.6394||0:00.8658|
|22||19||Truck Assist TEKNO Racing||Jack Le Brocq||Holden Commodore ZB||1:08.6841||0:00.9105|
|23||22||Mobil 1 Racing||James Courtney||Holden Commodore ZB||1:08.7144||0:00.9408|
|24||56||Boost Mobile Kostecki Brothers||Brodie Kostecki||Holden Commodore ZB||1:08.8400||0:01.0664|
|25||21||Team CoolDrive||Macauley Jones||Holden Commodore ZB||1:08.8808||0:01.1072|